Miss Floribunda: Alternatives to smelly chrysanthemums

MISS FLORIBUNDA —

Dear Miss Floribunda,

Last year at about this time you provided flower alternatives to “Odor Averse,”  who disliked the smell of chrysanthemums. I also find their smell rather acrid, so I planted the dahlias and asters you suggested, and I certainly do like them.  But they lack much fragrance of any kind. Are there any autumn-flowering plants that actually smell good?

Fragrance Friendly on Farragut Street

 Dear Fragrance Friendly,

I consulted with some olfactory experts, my sister Nosegay and her twins Tussy and Mussy Bouquet (pronounced “Bucket”)  After first arguing with me that there is nothing unpleasant about the “poignant” scent of the chrysanthemum, they informed me that the aster oblongifolius, or “Raydon’s Favorite,” has foliage with a fresh minty scent. In addition, this aster doesn’t mind our clay soil and hot summers, and seems pest-free.

I also learned that new scented dahlias are being developed. Honka, a simple star dahlia, is an example and can be easily found in several colors.  A grower of the orchid variety of dahlia in British Columbia has produced several aromatic dahlias, the most fragrant of which is called “Hy Scent” and smells like hyacinths.  Ironically, these are so simple in form that they may not appeal to one fervent group of dahlia lovers: the blind. It has been explained to the sighted that it is the great variety of fascinating shapes and textures of the dahlia that make it the favorite flower of the visually impaired, and that fragrance is actually a secondary consideration. Perhaps the future will bring a full panoply of dahlias that combine variety with fragrance.

Be that as it may, Nosegay points out that we need not limit ourselves to last year’s recommendations anyway. She suggests that you try colchicum speciosum, or  autumn crocus. The purple flowers smell like honey.  The delightful sweet autumn clematis looks and smells like jasmine, but she warns that it can become invasive. On the other hand, natives like polygala cruciata, or drumhead, and asclepias incarnala L., or swamp milkweed, stay in place and have lovely fragrance as well.

Nosegay extols hamamelis virginiana L., or witch hazel, as her favorite autumn-blooming native. Interestingly enough, though it blooms as early as Halloween and has a wicked name, its flowers have a truly heavenly fragrance.  Witch hazel is a small tree but you need only one to perfume your garden and its interesting habit, orange leaves and curly yellow flowers, make it very attractive.

Tussy and Mussy think you might like to experiment with herbs such as anise hyssop and  various sages. Their own fun favorites are the scented geraniums,  South African relatives of the more showy pelargonia we are familiar with.  Their flowers are little and lavender but their foliage comes in over 80 varieties, the fragrance mimicking many flowers, fruits and spices — and even chocolate and coconut!  The easiest to find are the rose- and lemon-scented ones, but you can order others from herb specialists. The Bouquets line their outdoor stairways with pots of them, and half bury pots of them along their walkways so that they can release fragrance when brushed against.  They overwinter well in a sunny room.

To find out more and participate in a plant exchange, come to the next meeting of the Hyattsville Horticulture Society on Saturday, October 19, from 10 a.m. to noon. It will take place at the home of Joe Buriel and Dave Roeder at 3909 Longfellow Street.